When Should You Start Estate Planning?

Happy young couple standing in front of new home - how to start estate planning concept
It’s never too soon to start planning your estate. Although no one wants to think about it, the unexpected can happen at any time and it’s important to have a plan in place that protects your loved ones — and gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out. Significantly, a comprehensive estate plan shouldn’t only consist of a last will and testament, but it should also include documents that plan for incapacity. While the process associated with putting your affairs in order and documenting your wishes can sometimes feel emotionally overwhelming, it’s vital to start estate planning early and have the proper documents in place to prevent unintended consequences.

When Should You Start Estate Planning?

Many people wonder how to start estate planning — and when might be the best time to do so. You should begin to plan your estate at the time you become a legal adult, which is age 18 in Oregon. Once a person reaches the age of majority, their parents are no longer responsible for their finances, and they cannot make healthcare decisions on their child’s behalf. Even if you don’t have many assets to include in a full estate plan, it’s essential to at least have an advance healthcare directive in place when you turn 18. This document allows you to choose the person who will have the authority to make medical decisions for you in the event an accident occurs. So, exactly when should you start estate planning? You should consider creating an estate plan or revising any estate planning documents you have executed when major life events occur, including under the following circumstances:
  • You got married or remarried — People often wrongfully assume that if they pass away, their spouse will receive all their assets. This is not the case in Oregon. If you die intestate (without a will), your spouse will inherit half of your property and your descendants will inherit the rest. When you get married, it’s critical to document your wishes regarding property distribution to avoid an unwanted outcome.
  • You welcomed a new child or grandchild — The birth of a child is an event that should cause you to consider putting an estate plan in place. If you already have one, you should review it at this time and make any necessary revisions. Not only can you provide for the financial security of your children with your estate plan, but you can also name a guardian for your minor children in the event you pass away or become incapacitated.
  • You purchased a home or real estate — If you purchased a home or other property, it’s a good idea to create an estate plan, or revise the one you have in place. If you don’t address the home in your estate plan, your loved ones could face lengthy court proceedings.
  • You received an inheritance — If you received a large inheritance, you should be sure to address the additional assets you have acquired in your estate plan. Anytime your wealth has increased, you should revisit your estate plan and make the necessary changes.
  • You got divorced — Divorce can bring many changes to your life and the estate plan you had in place during your marriage may not reflect your current wishes. While any provisions in your will concerning your ex-spouse are revoked under Oregon law, you should consider amending your will or creating a new one to avoid any legal complications later.
A comprehensive estate plan can include a last will and testament, as well as a variety of trusts. You can structure your estate plan to reduce estate taxes, provide for specific beneficiaries, and help your loved ones avoid the lengthy probate process. However, not all estate planning documents need to be executed at once. You might start by drafting a will and executing a power of attorney — and create trusts when you have acquired more assets or your family has grown. A knowledgeable attorney can best advise you regarding how to start estate planning and the steps you need to take, depending upon your stage of life, assets, and future goals.

When Should You Start Planning for Incapacity?

Your last will and testament can outline how you wish your property to be distributed and to whom, but it is only effective when you pass away. It cannot be used to communicate your objectives in the event you become incapacitated due to an unexpected illness or accidental injury. By taking measures to plan for the possibility of temporary or permanent incapacity, you can ensure your wishes will be met if you cannot make healthcare or financial decisions for yourself. If you haven’t executed the necessary documents to plan for incapacity, you should consider doing so as soon as possible. Once you have become mentally incapacitated, any documents you execute would not be valid or enforceable. The documents you will need to plan for incapacity can vary, depending upon your needs. However, it’s a good idea to have an advance healthcare directive, HIPAA authorizations, and a financial power of attorney in place from the date of your 18th birthday. In addition, an effective incapacity plan should include a revocable living trust. With this instrument, you can remain in control of your assets during your lifetime — and appoint a successor trustee to step in to manage the trust should you become incapacitated.

Contact an Experienced Oregon Attorney to Start Estate Planning

If you’re wondering how to start estate planning, it’s best to work with an experienced attorney who can advise you and guide you through the process. Based in Salem, Litowich Law provides clients throughout Oregon with dedicated counsel for a variety of estate planning matters. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation.
Categories: Estate Planning